Backlog Delays Social Security
The Associated Press
Washington -- Social Security officials say disabled
Americans who apply for benefits often must wait two to three years to
start receiving them because of a backlog of applications.
Social Security Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart
delivered those findings Wednesday to Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman
of the Senate Finance Committee, who requested during Barnhart's
confirmation hearing last year a study of delays in agency operations.
Barnhart was testifying about the report Thursday at a House Ways and
Means Committee hearing.
``I think the
length of time the disability claims process can take is unacceptable,''
Barnhart she said.
Barnhart said she wants to make changes to the
hearing process, including developing shorter forms for favorable
decisions, allowing administrative law judges to issue decisions from the
bench immediately after a hearing, creating a law clerk position,
expanding videoteleconference hearings and digitally recording hearings.
She also said she thinks policy-makers must act as
soon as possible to shore up future funding for the retirement program,
and that President Bush's commission is a good starting point for
It can take as long as 1,150 days to process a
disability application, the Social Security Administration study said. For
about half the time, the applications remain idle because of a huge
backlog of cases that haven't been completed because of legal appeals and
For example, there were about 200,000 backlogged
cases in 2001 at the administrative judge level.Out of 100 people who
apply for disability benefits, on average 40 will be approved in about 125
days, the agency said, based on 2001 figures. About 35 of the 60
applications that were denied will go away, and about 25 will appeal. If a
person continues through the entire appeals process, a final decision
could come in as long as 1,150 days.
About 10 million disabled Americans receive Social Security supplemental income benefits. The Social Security Administration receives more than 2 million applications for disability benefits each year.
``The result is that disabled Americans are left to
spend hundreds of days in limbo without critical help,'' Baucus said.
Reducing the overflow would require additional staff
and a minimum of $400 million added to the agency's budget. Also, at least
a third of delays could be reduced by new technology and process
improvements, according to the findings.
Social Security is expected to start paying out more in benefits than it takes in in payroll taxes in 2017. Bush wants to let younger workers invest a portion of their payroll taxes in the stock market. His commission recommended three proposals to consider, but they have been criticized because future promised benefits would be cut.
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